Sky Chadde is Investigate Midwest’s managing editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meatpacking companies have begun vaccinating their workers, and Tyson Foods is requiring its workers to be vaccinated. The below figures reflect totals since the beginning of the pandemic. It’s unclear how many workers who have tested positive have recovered.
Since April 2020, there have been at least 86,000 reported positive cases tied to meat and poultry processing facilities from at least 499 outbreaks in 38 states, and at least 423 reported worker deaths in at least 67 plants in 29 states.
*Not all plants with outbreaks are on the above map. Only about half of all plants with outbreaks have been publicly identified, so the unidentified plants, where a specific location is not known, are not included on this map. To search or download the full list, scroll down to the spreadsheet.
Hover your mouse over each state to see the total number in each state.
Using news reports, company press releases, state and federal data and original reporting, we've kept track of the coronavirus's effect on the meatpacking industry, including positive cases among workers and employee deaths. We've incorporated figures released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on May 1, 2020, and July 7, 2020.
In late 2021, we also incorporated the figures from an investigation by the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, which obtained data on COVID-19 cases and deaths from just the five largest meatpacking companies in the country.
According to a December USDA report, coronavirus cases peaked in meatpacking plants in May 2020. Through that month, counties with meatpacking plants saw 10 times as many cases as counties without meatpacking plants, but then the difference in cases started to decline. As the virus became more widespread, counties with and without meatpacking plants saw similar numbers of cases.
Scientific studies have aimed to estimate the number of positive cases tied to the meatpacking industry. One calculated that, as of July 21, 2020, between 236,000 and 310,000 cases (or 6-8% of all US cases) and between 4,300 and 5,200 deaths (or 3-4% of all US deaths) were linked to the industry.
This tracker is devoted to compiling the specific plants, with specific number of positive cases and deaths, that have had outbreaks.
We'll continue updating through the pandemic.
You can search by company name or location (city, county, state). Each outbreak has the following information:
- the name and location of the plant where the outbreak occurred
- the number of positive cases tied to it
- the number of workers who worked at the plant who died, if deaths have been reported
- if the plant closed down at some point, the date it closed down and the date of its reopening
- if it's available, the total number of workers at the plant and the number of workers who were tested
- the type of meat processed at the facility
- the USDA establishment number
- the total number of meatpacking cases in the state in which the plant is located
- the total number of meatpacking deaths in the state which the plant is located
If a row has "unknown" in all the columns, that means CDC or state data has not identified where the outbreak has happened. We include these in the database to note how many outbreaks in each state have actually happened.
Kansas and North Carolina have started updating their figures on meatpacking cases regularly online. Most states still do not. So those states' figures are much more heavily reflected in this database.
Click the green button to see the additional information, sources used and links to the original articles.
Almost half of the facilities that have outbreaks have not been identified at this time, and about a third of the workers who have died have not been linked to a particular plant (the CDC only reports aggregate figures). If you have information on facilities that haven't had outbreaks reported publicly yet or on plants with worker deaths not publicly reported, let us know at email@example.com, or visit our page on how to share information with us securely.
If you are a meatpacking worker or an FSIS inspector and have a tip to share, visit the page on how to contact us securely.
METHODOLOGY: "Tied to" includes positive tests among workers and people who interacted with workers, such as family members; it's primarily workers who have tested positive. If that distinction has been reported, we note it in the database. We are not including in the count incidents where "many," "numerous," etc. were used, and we're rounding down if numbers are reported as approximate.
Data that breaks down at what workplace an outbreak occurred is hard to come by. The first state that put data online that includes the setting of an outbreak is Colorado. On Sept. 9, Kansas started putting that information online. Because of that, we're basing most of our count on numbers that have been reported in news stories.
In Brown County, Wisconsin, which has three plants with large outbreaks, local health officials told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel they've stopped tracking cases to the plants because it was time-consuming. Virginia officials, though they released data on nursing homes, said they wouldn't do the same for poultry plants because of privacy concerns, according to the Virginia Mercury. Iowa state officials disclosed an inaccurate count related to one facility, the Associated Press found.
Also, when Senators Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker requested industry giants tally the number of infected and dead workers at their plants, the companies did not provide figures.
So it's possible the overall figures are an undercount.
The figures the CDC has released are through May and don't include every state with outbreaks. The figures lag behind other reporting. For instance, the CDC says one worker in Georgia has died from COVID-19, but in mid-April a Tyson spokesperson told the Associated Press at least four of the company's workers in Georgia had died. When reporting reflects local or state figures that are higher than the CDC's, we have used the local/state figures.
We've also incorporated documents obtained by the Documenting COVID-19 project at The Brown Institute for Media Innovation.
We are not counting outbreaks at seafood processing plants. To verify whether a facility is a meatpacking plant, we check against the USDA's list of establishments. (Meatpacking plants have establishment numbers that begin with M or P.)
CORRECTIONS: An earlier version of this page said there were outbreaks in 40 states. We have tracked outbreaks in 38 states. We also incorrectly stated the number of cases in Maryland; it is 208, not 360. We regret the errors.
We're thankful for the great reporting from other outlets that allowed us to do this.
Those outlets are: ABC7 Chicago, ABC57, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, AL.com, Argus Leader, Associated Press, Baltimore Sun, Cape Gazette, Cincinnati Enquirer, Civil Eats, Columbia Missourian, Courier and Press, CNN, The Daily Record, Delaware Online, Delmarva Now, Des Moines Register, Dodge City Daily Globe, DTN, Grand Island Independent, Greeley Tribune, Green Bay Press Gazette, Idaho Statesman, Indianapolis Star, Jackson Clarion-Ledger, KAKE, KARE 11, KBIA, KEPR-TV, KOIN6, KTIV, KQED, Lewistown Sentinel, Meat+Poultry, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Minnesota Public Radio, Minnesota Reformer, Minneapolis StarTribune, Morning Call, Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, Nashville Tennessean, NBC News, NC Watchdog Reporting Network, New York Times, The Oklahoman, Omaha World-Herald, Peoria Journal Star, Philadelphia Inquirer, Que Pasa, Radio Iowa, Reuters, RTV6 Indianapolis, Sioux City Journal, The State, Texas Tribune, Tri-City Herald, York Daily Record, Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, WITN-TV, WIBW13, WOI-TV, WOOD-TV, WTXL Tallahassee, 9News and 13WMAZ.
Pramod Acharya and Heather Schlitz contributed research in 2020. Da Yeon Eom, Eli Hoff, Luis Velazquez-Perez and Mary Hennigan contributed reporting in 2021.